French Tuna Macaroni Salad with Anchovy Mustard Dressing (gluten free)

My week of housesitting is over, and yesterday I returned home to my humble apartment. It felt good to be back in my own space, and I enjoyed unpacking, making lunch in my own kitchen, and watching a documentary in my own living room. I returned home from this housesitting experience with a TON of great culinary inspiration - they have a large collection of cookbooks, which are now prominently displayed, unlike before. Not surprisingly, I delved in, looking at all sorts of cookbooks. I was especially charmed by the array of Indian and French cookbooks, as well as The River Cafe cookbooks (AWESOME). While most of the recipes in all the cookbooks I looked at required modification, or were completely off limits to me, that didn't stop me from relishing in the beautiful ingredients, the amazing colors, and inspiring techniques. After reading The French Kitchen and the River Cafe Cookbook Green, I was left dreaming of French and Italian cuisine. Anchovies, capers, and oil cured olives, tarragon and fresh parsley, fresh seafood and roasted chicken, and an abundance of fresh market vegetables danced through my thoughts.

The French and Italians seriously know what's up.
So, drawing on that inspiration, I decided to put a spin on the classic tuna macaroni salad that I am made for a friend's birthday BBQ last night. Tuna macaroni salad is a Midwestern standby at every potluck, church dinner, or BBQ. As a child, I did not like that salad at all, and was so happy to have a good reason NOT to eat it when I was vegetarian. Once I started eating meat again, I still wouldn't touch this salad. What is it? The basic framework is tuna, macaroni, and bunch of mayonnaise. The rest of the ingredients vary, depending on the cook, but it has been known to contain everything from peas, celery, and chunks of cheese (usually Velveeta) to green pepper or pickles. As for the seasonings, it is usually limited to salt and pepper. In my experience, every version of this salad I'd ever had included WAY to much mayonnaise, not enough seasonings, and far too few vegetables, and was simply heavy, creamy yuckiness. Blech.

I went for the opposite. My version is inspired by the flavors of French cooking, and is bright and sunny and light. Like its classic cousin, macaroni elbows (gluten free!) and canned tuna provide a base. But I embellished with crunchy slices of celery hearts, sweet pops of peas, and salty twangs of oil cured black olives and capers. Fresh parsley, tarragon, and dill from my garden add a fresh, green flavor, and I finished it off with a wickedly good anchovy and mustard dressing. The best part? The macaroni is totally outnumbered by the tuna and the green, green, green of veggies and herbs, and it doesn't leave you feeling heavy at all.
Seriously, canned tuna and elbow macaroni never had it so good. The salad was a hit at the party, and I took home *zero* leftovers. Nobody missed the mayonnaise or the gluten - I love feeding delicious, whole foods, gluten free things to unsuspecting people! Thankfully, I saved a little here at home for myself before taking it to the party - it will make for a great lunch next week.

Two things:
This recipe makes a large amount, about 3 quarts. So unless you are feeding a crowd , taking it to a potluck, or want some serious leftovers, I recommend halving the recipe. But then again, maybe not - it is really good, and you might just want to eat the whole batch!

This is not low sodium by any means - the anchovies, capers, olives, and fish sauce all have a significant amount of sodium. To reduce the amount of sodium, you can also use water or vinegar packed capers instead of salt packed; the flavor will be slightly different, but it will reduce the sodium. You can also omit the fish sauce if desired. Look for unsalted tuna, and rinse off the anchovies before using them in the dressing. I like going to Trader Joe's for both tuna and anchovies - their tuna is packed in just water or olive oil (no soy-based vegetable broth or other additives!), and their olive oil packed anchovies are really great too. And because it is Trader Joe's, you can get them for a great price! I used water packed tuna in this recipe, but olive oil packed would also be delicious. Oil packed tuna is richer and heavier, while water packed tuna is flakier and light - follow your personal preference.

yield: about 3 quarts

1 1/2 c dry (about 3 c cooked) brown rice elbow macaroni (or other tolerated pasta)
3 6-oz. cans water or olive oil packed tuna, drained
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
stalks from 1 celery heart, thinly sliced at diagonal (use 6-8 of the the inner tender stalks from a bunch of celery)
1 16 oz bag frozen peas, thawed
1/2 c oil-cured black olives, pitted
1/4 cup salt-packed capers
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
2-4 T fresh dill, minced
2 T fresh tarragon leaves, minced, or 2 tsp dry tarragon

Anchovy Mustard Dressing
1 tin olive oil-packed anchovies, rinsed
2 T prepared mustard
2 T raw apple cider vinegar (Bragg's or Eden Organics)
1/4 t vitamin C crystals dissolved in 2-4 T water OR juice from 1/2-1 lemon
1-2 T fresh dill weed
1/2-1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 clove garlic (optional)
2-4 T olive oil

Prepare dressing: rinse the anchovies, then put all the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender, and blend until totally liquified. Gradually add the oil, and blend until emulsified and well combined; adjust seasonings to taste as desired. It should fairly thick, but still pourable; only add more oil or water as needed. Put in a small jar in the fridge until ready to use.

Prepare pasta: Next, prepare the pasta according to the instructions on the packaging. Cook only until just al dente, then strain and rinse well under cool water. DO NOT OVER COOK! After rinsing, put in a large bowl to cool, drizzle with just a little olive oil, and stir around to coat. Your pasta won't stick together as it cools this way!

Prepare the rest of the ingredients: Thinly slice shallots. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a small pan, and saute over medium heat until caramelly and brown. Add to bowl with pasta. Wash and thinly slice celery on a diagonal, pit and coarsely chop the olives, drain and break up tuna into small pieces, and measure peas and capers. Add everything to the bowl with pasta and shallots. Mince tarragon and dill, and also add to bowl. Toss ingredients gently a few times to mix, then pour on dressing and gently stir ingredients together until evenly moistened and mixed.
Transfer to serving bowl, cover, and chill for 1-2 hours to let flavors meld.
Serve and enjoy!